KENNEDALE, Texas — In many ways, the way the Panthers' baseball season ended Friday night against Burleson Centennial High School at Kennedale's Jett Teague Park played out like the lyrics of the like the critically acclaimed 1980 Kurtis Blow single entitled "The Breaks."
Breaks to win and breaks to lose. Breaks run cold and breaks run hot. Some folks got 'em and some have not. But these are the breaks.
Blow's words — regarding offense and defensive baseball — may have been right up Head Coach Ray Hydes and Midlothian High School's alley — despite coming to decades earlier.
"It was a hard way to end the season," Hydes said about the 2-0 loss to the Spartans. "We had trouble producing runs all season, but it's something that comes with time. There were some games we came out and would get eight or nine hits against some of the best pitchers in the state and there were others where we didn't swing the bat really well. It's something that we're going to have to work really, really hard at turning around and something that will come with experience."
He lost 26 athletes — Texas Christian University catcher Zach Humphreys and Odessa Junior College infielder Kyler Castillo and high-functioning talents of that ilk — in two years and handled a roster with only six seniors and only a few others with varsity experience.
"We knew it was going to be hard, but we also knew it was coming," Hydes continued. "We got caught with being young. Those 26 players were ones that helped us be very successful. We looked out there [at the beginning of the season] and what we saw was a bunch of new faces that had never been in a varsity baseball game and hadn't been in the tournaments and the type of talent we'd seen in the past. There was a learning curve they had to tackle. There's a maturity they gained during this season and I think next year, we'll see it. Now they know what to expect.
Sometimes in baseball, you have to take the good with the bad. We're expecting all but our six seniors back next season and more good play next year after a tough season this year."
Gone was Humphrey's game-changing home run power and Castillo's clutch and timely hitting. One seems like the heir-apparent to take over behind the plate and pave the way for TCU signee and Midlothian ace Russ Smith's dominance at the collegiate level and the other has become one of the best hitters in the nation with a .429 batting average and 63 RBIs in 52 games.
Whether it was the lead off single that bounced harmlessly over a third baseman's head or the routine single that skirted through the legs of the boy at first, Hydes said 2017 has been a series of valuable learning lessons.
"It was a rocky road and there were were tough times but they stayed the course, believed in each other and showed the character that emulates the motto on our scoreboard," Hydes said. "You learn from your mistakes and move on. There were a lot of people counting us out after the first part of district play but they did the things they needed to do to make it into the playoffs as the No. 3 team."
Smith allowed two runs on six hits but settled and blanked Burleson Centennial after a shaky first inning. He ended the first with a ground out, fly out and strike out. He fanned five batters, threw a 70 percent strike rate and walked a single batter.
The Panthers' offense, too, had opportunities to claim the lead and leapfrog Burleson Centennial into the area round. In the top of the second inning Mason Quinn earned a walk but was thrown out advancing to second after an Anthony Ferrante ground out turned fielder's choice.
In the fourth inning, Tyler Spain singled and reached second base after Drake Girard's sacrifice bunt, but was thrown out after Blake Bolgiano grounded into a fielder's choice.
No batter reached third base — whether by hit, hit-by-pitch or walk — in seven innings.
Nine of the Panthers' 21 outs came via Jacob Meador strikeouts. Five came by groundouts and four by fly outs to the Spartans' defense. Meador allowed only one hit and walked only four batters with 106 pitches in seven innings.
While Burleson Centennial looks to surge past Dallas Wilson in the area round, Hydes and the Panthers will rebuild.
Midlothian will be without draft prospect and TCU signee Russ Smith, the owner of a 24-5 overall career record, 273 career strikeouts, four no-hitters, a 2017 .33 ERA and a 1.000 batting average in one plate appearance, clutch hitter Drake Wayland, key reliever Mason Johnson and dugout sparkplug Jake Ward.
The cupboard, however, may be more stocked than a quick glance may tell fans.
"There is a lot of talent here, but what we lacked was experience," Hydes said. "It was tough, but they took a step in the right direction this year. They became closer this year and that's important going into the offseason and the new season of baseball. I'm proud of every one of these kids for not giving up when they could have and finding ways to win close games. Every player on this team is part of my family and I would be honored if they were my kids."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.